Frommer's EasyGuide to London 2016 by Jason Cochran by Jason Cochran - Read Online

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The Best of London

Whether you realize it or not, London shaped your destiny. There’s hardly a quarter of the globe that it hasn’t changed. The United States was founded in reaction to London’s edicts. Australia was first peopled with London’s criminals. Modern Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand were cultivated from London. India’s course was irrevocably changed by the aspirations of London businessmen, as were the lives of millions of Africans who were shipped around the world while Londoners lined their pockets with profits. That you bought this book, written in English somewhere other than in England, is evidence of London’s reach across time and distance. And its dominion continues to this day: London is the world’s most popular destination for foreign tourists.

London is inexhaustible. You could tour it for months and barely get to know it. Few cities support such a variety of people living in remarkable harmony. That diversity makes London like a cut diamond; approach it from a different angle each day, and it presents an entirely fresh shape and color. From famous stories to high style, London is many things in every moment.

London’s best Attractions

British Museum (p. 90): Some of the most astounding treasures of the classical world are housed in one overwhelmingly glorious neoclassical building.

British Library (p. 86): The finest and rarest books on the planet, plus the Magna Carta, are laid open for your eyes.

Churchill War Rooms (p. 102): A time capsule of the tense days of World War II and the most advanced biographical museum in existence.

Museum of London (p. 123): Beside a remnant of a Roman wall, the city’s spectacular story is retold with the nonstop dazzle of precious finds.

National Gallery




: Some 2,000 masterpieces, the cream of every genre, reside at what may be the best fine art collection in the world.

Natural History Museum (p. 111): For kids, it’s all about the dinosaurs, but this cathedral of nature has major chops as a research facility.

St Paul’s Cathedral (p. 124): Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece is the icon of London and a shrine to historic events and people.

Tate Modern (p. 120): Bankside’s hymn to the shock of the new, a former power station, makes for an unforgettable riverside afternoon.

Tower of London (p. 128): Britain’s gruesome underbelly and its glittering Crown Jewels coexist in one sprawling city castle of stone.

Victoria and Albert Museum (p. 113): Always evolving and growing, this is probably the world’s finest collection of decorative arts.

Westminster Abbey (p. 105): Be awed by Britain’s ancient spiritual heart, where nearly 1,000 years of monarchs have been crowned and many are buried.

London’s essential Experiences

Climbing the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral: Wren’s baroque masterpiece stirs emotion in everyone who lays eyes on its lead-coated wooden dome. But it’s the climb to the Golden Gallery for a 360° panorama that will stay with you forever. As for Wren, he was forced to add the balustrade for Queen Anne. Ladies think nothing well without an edging, he complained. See p. 124.

Surveying the City from Southbank: In 1957, the Thames was declared biologically dead. Today, it flows with life. Alongside it, as restaurants, bars, and creative developments continue to pop up, a walk along the South Bank from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge has become one of the world’s great promenades. The ever-changing perspective from Parliament to the Tower is ceaselessly inspiring.

Following in Royal Footsteps: London is where some of the most famous characters in history played their scenes. Nearly every British monarch since 1066 was crowned in Westminster Abbey (p. 105). Henry VIII strutted around Hampton Court Palace (p. 141), Charles I lost his head at The Banqueting House (p. 108), and Queen Elizabeth resides at Buckingham Palace (p. 101). And the story goes on: The future King George VII is probably being diapered elsewhere in Kensington Palace (p. 110) even as you explore it.

Flying High on the London Eye: Ride to the top of our generation’s contribution to London’s beloved landmarks for a far-reaching shot of the cityscape. Time your trip for early evening as the sun starts to sink and the lights come on across the metropolis. See p. 118.

Honoring the struggles of World War II: More than 70 years later, the Blitz isn’t far from many Londoners’ minds. Dig into the power of their resistance at the superlative time capsule of the Churchill War Rooms




, the immersive Museum of London Docklands




, the floating military museum HMS Belfast, and by seeing original bomb scars on the side of the V&A





Taking Afternoon Tea: Look smart at Brown’s, The Goring, Fortnum & Mason, or the Langham (p. 69), where the traditional tea ritual carries on as it did in Britain’s colonial heyday.

Spending an Evening at a West End Theatre: London is the theatrical capital of the world. The live stages of Theatreland around Covent Garden and Soho offer a combination of variety, accessibility, and economy—but the shows of the Fringe are where the future can be found. See p. 180.

London’s best Food

Tucking into Honest British Ingredients: After many lost years of too much boiled cabbage and bread, the English have fallen back in love with farm-fresh ingredients. The gastropub movement, epitomized by its still-potent pioneer, The Eagle (p. 74), is just the beginning. Delectable English traditional cooking can be found from the oldest establishments (Rules, p. 66) to the neighborhoody holes in the wall (Andrew Edmunds, p. 61; 10 Greek Street, p. 60).

Sinking a Pint in a Traditional Pub: From Tudor coaching inns to riverside taverns, London’s pub culture spans the centuries. Raise a pint where Shakespeare did at The George, immerse yourself in an ale at Dr. Samuel Johnson’s local Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (p. 85), and drink in a Victorian jewel box of etched glass at The Princess Louise (p. 84). Then repeat. See 20 Pubs You'll Love on p. 79.

Mining the Stalls at Borough Market: The top weekend port of call for London foodies is the market under the railway by London Bridge station—not least for the free samples dished out by vendors keen to market their wares. It’s gourmet heaven. See p. 72.

Enjoying the New English Comfort Food: London’s first Indian restaurant opened in 1810, and Asian food of every origin is now the capital’s most popular cuisine. The dozens of curry houses on Brick Lane (p. 76) pitch for your business at the curb; or take in a traditional meal under the gold silk wallpaper at Covent Garden’s Punjab Restaurant (p. 68), opened by an Indian wrestler back in 1947.

Chowing Down on Farmhouse Cheese: England produces hundreds of artisan cheeses. Check out the West Country cheddars, red Leicester, and goat’s cheeses at cheesemongers like Neal’s Yard Dairy (p. 73) or eat a gloppy, gooey plate of raclette at Kappacasein (p. 73). But get your fill while you’re here: You can’t get it back through Customs.

Tasting Britain’s Fading Traditions: As young English diners insist on flashier fare, the older ways of cooking become rarer. Whether it’s jellied eels in the protected interior of M. Manze (p. 73), the deep-fried goodness at the linoleum-lined chippie Fryer’s Delight




, or the traditional caff of the Regency Café




, mid-century Britain is still steaming along—affordably.

London’s best Hotels

By 2016, London will have 136,000 hotel rooms—some better than others.

Meet the Locals at a Family-run B&B: Mom-and-pop inns have taken a hit because of the dominance of corporate hotels. But you can still find some stellar homegrown hospitality where owners put you first, including the Valotis and Cabrals of the Alhambra Hotel in St Pancras (p. 24), the Beynons of Bloomsbury’s Jesmond Hotel (p. 26), and the Callises of 22 York Street in Marylebone (p. 40).

Lose Yourself in a Grande Dame: The first all-service grand hotel in Europe, the Langham, was built in 1865 and it’s still extending top-flight hospitality to guests with taste—and cash (p. 39). Claridge’s (p. 39) and Brown’s (p. 38) have attracted royalty and creative misadventures since the mid-1800s, while the world-famous Savoy still stands atop her field for luxury, legends, and Thames views (p. 29). Best of all, you can tour their ground floors without being a guest.

Pay Less Than $50: You may not think it’s possible, but with advance planning, you can get a new, impeccably maintained private room in the center of town for only £29 a night. Book ahead with the British chains Premier Inn, Travelodge, or easyHotel, or with the imported budget brands Ibis or Tune, and London is yours, cheap. See p. 47.

Sleep Where History Happened: Rather than tear it down, Londoners would rather revitalize it. There’s no more luscious restoration than that of the swoony spires of Gilbert Scott’s neo-Gothic St Pancras Renaissance Hotel (p. 22). Have a chlorine-free swim where printing presses once printed the morning news at One Aldwych (p. 28), or take a room with a four-post bed where the great thinker William Hazlitt breathed his last at the dusky Hazlitt’s in Soho (p. 27).

Enjoy Style for Less: Boutique hotels are encroaching deeper into budget territory than ever before. At Z Hotel Piccadilly (p. 33) and Hub By Premier Inn (p. 32), surrender a little space but none of the chic at a berth near Trafalgar Square. In Southwark, buzzy Dutch boutique CitizenM (p. 42) has huge beds and a loopy personality, but a small price.

London’s best For Families

Cruising London’s Waterways: In addition to the grand River Thames, London has a working canal system that once kept goods flowing to and from the city’s docks. The best value trips are on the Regent’s Canal (p. 152) and on the Thames Clipper passing under Tower Bridge. See p. 256.

Losing Your Way in the World’s Most Famous Hedge Maze: The green labyrinth at Hampton Court twists and turns for almost half a mile. When you manage to extricate yourselves, stroll through centuries of architectural styles at this stunning palace, home of many an English monarch. Don’t forget to pick up a kids’ activity trail. See p. 141.

Seeing Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens: You’ll feel like a character from a Victorian novel as you see Sir George Frampton’s beloved 1902 statue of the boy who played the panpipe. There’s no better way to admire and enjoy the green lung—the largest and most popular open space in a city that holds the record for the most green space for a city of its size. See p. 151.

Going Botanic in Royal Kew: The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, house more than 50,000 plants from across the planet, including Arctic and tropical varieties. Youngsters will love the 200m (656-ft.) high Treetop Walkway, up in the Garden’s deciduous canopy. See p. 142.

Asking How, Where, and Why: Inside South Kensington’s Science Museum, the Atmosphere and Launchpad galleries use interactive exhibits to keep inquisitive minds occupied. Or pilot a simulated ship at the kid-centric National Maritime Museum. See p. 112 and 137.

Learn the Panto Lingo: From November to early January, join one of Britain’s most delightful holiday experiences: Pantomime, which are slapstick musical romps through famous stories, usually starring D-list celebrities. Hiss at villains, shout instructions for heroes, and giggle at good-natured drag. Try the Theatre Royal Stratford (, the New Wimbledon (, the Hackney Empire (p. 185), or The Richmond Theatre (

London’s best Free & Dirt Cheap Experiences

Visiting the Great Museums: London’s state museums and galleries—including most of the big names—show off their permanent collections for free. Locals need the break—the average monthly rent here for a one-bedroom is £1,600 but the average salary is only £300 more. They include the British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, V&A, the two Museums of London, and the British Library. See chapter 5.

Taking in Fresh Air and a City View: North of the River Thames, Hampstead Heath offers miles of woodland trails, historic pubs, and sumptuous mansions. To the south, the heights of Greenwich Park enjoy a panoramic sweep that takes in the royal borough’s 18th-century maritime architecture and the steel-and-glass of Canary Wharf. See p. 151 and 150.

Dining on the Cheap: Away from the main tourist drag and the Michelin-starred hotspots, London is surprisingly well equipped with affordable, tasty places to enjoy a full meal for under £10. Among the best are two of the West End’s most venerable budget pit stops, Café in the Crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Stockpot. See p. 64 and 65.

Going to the Library: The British Library’s free exhibitions include priceless manuscripts (p. 86) that will blow your mind. And check out Jeremy Bentham, stored like an on old book in a case at University College London! He is stuffed and on display. See p. 92.

Catching a Free Event in the Center of the City: From the Lord Mayor’s Show to the Notting Hill Carnival, almost every major public event in the capital costs nothing to attend. See London Calendar of Events, p. 259.

The best Historic Experiences

Meeting the Heroes and Villains of History: Get face-to-face with a rogue’s gallery from the past at the National Portrait Gallery, where faces seem to watch you across time with a sparkle in their eye. The gang’s all here, from a supercilious Henry VIII to a pugnacious Hogarth to a kind-eyed Princess Diana, already becoming a memory. See p. 97.

Taking a Tour of Royal London: From palaces and parks to the royal art collections, history, geography, and culture have been shaped—or owned—by centuries of aristocratic rule. You can see the best of it in a day, including the Queen’s favorite grocer, Fortnum & Mason (p. 162), plus any one of 800 other Royal Warrant holders (p. 167).

Peering into a Time Capsule: Some museums preserve scenes that were frozen in time. No reconstructions or fakery here: You’ll gaze upon authentic World War II military operations at the Churchill War Rooms (p. 102); admire the graves of great artists and the location of epic rituals at Westminster Abbey (p. 105); and roam the very rooms used in daily life by kings and queens at Buckingham Palace (p. 101), Hampton Court Palace (p. 141), Kensington Palace (p. 110), and Windsor Castle (p. 229).

Shopping in the Grandest Department Stores of Them All: And, no, it isn’t Harrods. Liberty of London, founded in 1875 and moved to its current half-timbered, mock-Tudor home in 1924, and Selfridges (p. 164), both designed and built by Americans, redefined sales methods and played crucial roles in world history. See p. 163.

Imagining Domestic Life Through the Ages: At the Geffrye Museum (p. 133) period re-creations of interiors from the spartan 1630s to the flashy 1990s allow visitors to understand how home life has changed. But nothing immerses you in the past quite like the brain-bending role-playing of a night visit to Dennis Severs’ House (p. 133).


Suggested Itineraries & Neighborhoods

Few great modern cities are as multilayered, intricate, and yes, messy as London, Western Europe’s most populous city (8.3 million in 2015), and that’s because history was knitted into its very layout. London is mostly the haphazard product of blind evolution, which piled up over successive generations to produce a complicated metropolis. One could say that London simply happened.

As recently as the early 1800s, London—and by London, I mean what we now call The City, between St Paul’s and the Tower—was a compact, teeming monster where many lives, birth to death, were carried out within the same few blocks. Within that frenzied cluster, districts developed out of logic or bias—the main streets ran south to the river and not east or west, for example, the smoke of industry was banished downwind, and kings lived near the Thames for easy transportation. All around The City were dozens of villages, many of which retain their names as modern neighborhoods and, if you’re lucky, a whiff of their original personalities.

Quickly, London swelled to swallow its current territory. Yet because of ancient echoes, neighborhoods remain surprisingly small—many are just minutes across by foot, and all but the most crucial streets can change names several times. It’s still possible to stroll along and sense sudden shifts in energy and character. In many ways, London is still a complex system of hamlets. It’s one of the many delights that makes it so surprising. It also means it can take a lifetime to scratch its surface.

Addresses sometimes reflect this improvisation; a building numbered 75 may sit across the street from one numbered 32. Despite this, it’s immensely difficult to get lost. The City maintains some 1,200 Legible London map Finger Posts throughout town. Wherever you are, a map is near.

If you want a map, forgo the oversimplified one your hotel might offer and don’t tax your data plan. The most cherished paper map is the London A-Z (, first compiled by the indefatigable Phyllis Pearsall, who walked every mile of The City for the 1936 debut edition and commanded the resulting cartography empire until her death 60 years later. Its London Mini A-Z Street Atlas (£6) fits into a pocket. (Don’t buy the app, which drains your smartphone’s batteries quickly.) Just be sure to call it the A to Zed or you’ll get a funny look; in England, the last letter in the alphabet is, quite sensibly, pronounced so it doesn’t rhyme with eight other letters.

London in 1 Day

First of all, what were you thinking? If you’re in town on a layover, didn’t you know that many airlines will allow you to stick around for a few days at no charge? Never mind. What’s done is done. Eat a huge breakfast and make your way to Tower Hill.

1  The Tower of London

Start here




because it usually opens an hour earlier (9am) than most attractions. Spend about 2 hours making stops at the Crown Jewels and the White Tower, and snap that requisite photo of the Tower Bridge




from the quay. Grab a triangle sandwich (the quintessential London lunch).

Tube it west on the Circle or District lines to Westminster.

2  Westminster Abbey

Allot a rushed 2 hours to see the effigies of kings and queens




. Of the Chapel of Henry VII, Washington Irving wrote: Stone seems, by the cunning labor of the chisel, to have been robbed of its weight and density, suspended aloft as if by magic, and the fretted roof achieved with the wonderful minuteness and airy security of a cobweb. Outside, take in the Houses of Parliament




and Big Ben’s Elizabeth Tower from across the street.

Walk up Whitehall, passing No. 10 Downing Street (the Walking Tour on p. 204 will guide you).

3  The National Gallery

At Trafalgar Square, a symbolic heart of The City, you can finally see some of the world’s most famous paintings in person




. Park guards also turn a blind eye to tourists climbing alongside those famous bronze couchant lions, each of them 20 feet long. But don’t mount them—they’re cracking.

From the Strand, head to the back of Charing Cross station and cross the Thames.

4  London Eye

There’s time for a revolution on London’s favorite contemporary icon and the new focal point of national celebrations




. In the colder months, you’ll be there to watch the sun go down slowly as Big Ben gongs.

Finish just north of the Gallery, around Leicester Square.

5  West End Show

Curtains go up around 7:30pm




. Enjoy an ice cream during interval (intermission)—it’s a custom here. Afterward, head to a pub and raise a pint to a city where you’ve barely scratched the surface (see p. 79 for ideas).

London on a 2nd Day

You’re going to have to move fast, but you’ll be able to see some highlights. Take the Tube to Mansion House, Blackfriars, or St Paul’s.

1  St Paul’s Cathedral

As you appreciate the underside of her dome, also appreciate the grave fact that before the 1940s, her flanks were crowded with buildings. Bombings devastated the structures that once hemmed her in.

Cross the Thames on the Millennium Bridge (the Walking Tour on p. 212 will help).

2  Tate Modern

Here’s a museum




in a colossal structure that can be more memorable than what’s on display inside it—although Rothko’s paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant can’t fail to put you in a restive mood. If it’s summer, catch a matinee at Shakespeare’s Globe




, just a few yards east; in summer, an afternoon pint at the wooden-galleried George Inn




, noted by Dickens and Shakespeare alike, will recharge you.

Take the Jubilee line from Southwark to Green Park.

3  Green Park

Walk south through Green Park




to behold the front of Buckingham Palace




; if you’re here in March, you may be lucky enough to see fields of daffodils in bloom. Return to Piccadilly to browse the classy shops lining it, including Fortnum & Mason





Take the Tube’s Piccadilly line (notice the century-old tilework) to Russell Square.

4  The British Museum

You’ll spend the afternoon roaming it




, but you’ll scarcely be able to wrap your brain around the age, rarity, and craftsmanship of what you see. Such aesthetic exertions may induce cravings for cream tea at its Great Court Restaurant.

Catch Bus 55 toward Oxford Circus. Sit on the top level for the views!

5  Oxford Circus

Wind up the afternoon with a dive into the bustling fitting rooms of the shops on Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Carnaby Street




, where you’ll find a huge selection of cool clothes at what Londoners call High Street prices—meaning they’re sane. Walk southeast for a few minutes to Frith Street in Soho and have dinner at Arbutus, a Michelin-starred neighborhood gem that charges prices far below its rank, and afterward, stroll past the lights of Piccadilly Circus. If you still have juice left, walk down Haymarket, turn left on Cockspur, and follow it down Strand to Aldwych.

6  Radio Rooftop Bar

The haute, polished architecture of the ME London hotel is a flashy counterpoint to the antiquities you’ve been absorbing all day, and the breathtaking panorama of The City from the terrace of its glassy 10th-floor bar more than justifies the luxury price of its cocktails (



Sun–Wed to 1am, Thurs–Sat to 2am; Tube: Temple). You’re standing on the site of the old Gaiety Theatre, where 100 years ago the famous Stage Door Johnnys came shopping for wives among the chorus girls. History is in every footprint here.

London on a 3rd Day

Follow the itinerary for 2 days in London, but add in one of The City’s South Kensington museums, preferably the Victoria and Albert




, and follow that with a walk through Hyde Park




, possibly to see the Diana, Princess of Wales Fountain, and to tour the public areas of her son’s and grandchildren’s London home, Kensington Palace




, in adjoining Kensington Gardens. Take the Tube or a bus to Westminster, and dive into the time capsule of the Churchill War Rooms




. Follow that with a stroll along South Bank from Westminster to London Bridge, taking your pick among the pubs and restaurants you find along the path.

An Itinerary for Families

There’s no bad neighborhood to stay in if you’ve got kids, because London is low-rise and manageable. But make sure they’re ready to climb stairs if you’re taking the Tube. On paper, some of London’s museums sound as if they’d be too dry, but in reality, they bend over backward to cater to children—sometimes even at the expense of adult minds. Every major museum, no exceptions, has an on-site cafe for lunch.

Day 1: Double-Deckers & Thames Clippers

Forget expensive open-top tours: Start your day seeing Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and much more for the price of bus fare on an antique, double-decker Routemaster bus with an old-style staircase on the end. Take route 15, every 15 minutes. After the Tower, head to the ferry dock outside and see The City from the river on a Thames Clipper




. Disembark at Tate Modern




, which comes fully loaded for young exploration with family trails, a learning zone on Level 5, and some very cool video tablets for interpreting the art. Take the Tube to Leicester Square for a West End musical





Day 2: Covent Garden & Coram’s Fields

Make your way to Covent Garden’s London Transport Museum




, where kids can pretend to drive a bus and explore other eye-level exhibits. Then bring your brood a 15-minute walk north to the British Museum




and hook them up with crayons and pads, exploration backpacks, and the special object collections tour geared to young minds. If they’re the daring types, the mummies never fail to impress. Just east you’ll find a city park just for children: The 7-acre Coram’s Fields ( was set aside in 1739 for an orphanage at a time when 75% of London kids died before the age of 5. Its southern gate is where mothers once abandoned their babies in desperation. Today, no adult may enter without a child and this sad spot is now the scene of daily family joy; there’s a petting zoo, two playgrounds for all ages, sand pits, and a paddling pool.

Day 3: The Brompton Road Museums

Today is devoted to exploration of the Brompton Road museums, a trio of world’s-bests for kids: Take the Piccadilly line to South Kensington, where the V&A




has hundreds of hands-on exhibits for kids (look for the hand symbol on the maps), such as trying on Victorian costumes or trying on armor gauntlets. Next door, the plain-speaking signs and robotic dinosaurs of the Natural History Museum




impress kids as much as the airplanes and space capsules over their heads at the Science Museum




—both institutions furnish even more kids’ trails and activities for free. Go east on the Circle or District lines to Temple, and you’re at the dancing water jets of the Somerset House courtyard (home of the Courtauld Gallery, p. 93). But if the weather doesn’t suit that, the London Eye’s capsules are safe, climate-controlled, and move imperceptibly—the view will stimulate and inspire kids.

A Discovery Weekend

The Frommer’s EasyGuides are designed to give you a firm introduction to the sights, hotels, and restaurants that speak most to a visitor about what’s going on in each destination. But authentic London doesn’t begin and end with these pages, and if you dip into the way that London locals live, your visit will be immeasurably richer.

Day 1: Brixton & Bollywood

When Victoria was Queen, families flocked to live near the incandescent lights of Brixton’s Electric Avenue, which in 1888 became one of London’s first shopping streets lit by electricity. Today, it’s a boisterous immigrant community. By day, explore the glazed awnings of its markets, where to inhale the aroma of meat and exotic spices is to walk through a portal to Jamaica, India, or China, and to be reminded that London, like few others, is a truly worldly city. In the evening, experience London’s huge South Asian population—Indians are nearly 2% of the population, and one of Britain’s richest men, Lakshmi Mittal, is Indian-born—by attending a Bollywood film at the Boleyn Cinema (; Tube: Upton Park), a historic 1938 Art Deco building and the second-largest Bollywood screen in the country that loves the genre.

Day 2: Go Football Mad or Cricket Crazy

London hosts 13 professional football (soccer) teams, more than any other city on Earth. From mid-August to mid-May, catch matches at some of the best Premier League teams: Chelsea (, Arsenal (London’s first club;, Fulham (, or West Ham United (, which in 2016 takes up residence in the former Olympic Stadium at Stratford. Filling the gap from April to September, and less likely to pelt you in the skull with a beer bottle, is cricket. Attend test matches at Marylebone’s MCC Lord’s Cricket Ground ( or Oval’s Surrey County Cricket Club ( If you figure out how the game works, fill me in, won’t you? It’s a little like baseball—and a lot like watching grass grow.

Day 3: Ale, Yorkshire Pudding & Tough Questions

On Sunday afternoons, find a pub with an inviting garden for Sunday Roast, a spread of meats with the trimmings, Yorkshire pudding (a pastrylike shell), and gravy, washed down with copious amounts of beer. It’s the more leisurely equivalent of brunch: After a long week of working for the Man, Londoners hang out until they’re ready for Monday. On Sundays, some pubs also hold pub quizzes, another staple of British life. Form teams and answer trivia for lame prizes, but be warned: Foreigners always fold on the sports and politics questions.

Neighborhoods in Brief

London’s neighborhoods were laid out during a period of wagon and foot traffic, when districts were defined in narrower terms than we define them today; indeed, for centuries people often lived complete lives without seeing the other side of town. Ironically, in our times, the Tube has done much to divide these districts from each other. Visitors are likely to hop a train between them and don’t often realize how remarkably close together they really are.

Are these the only areas of interest? Not even close. Literally hundreds of fascinating village clusters abound, many with names as cherishable as Ponders End, Tooting, and The Wrythe. And considering that a third of Londoners now belong to an ethnic minority and more than 200 languages are spoken, the flavor of your experience shifts as you go. But visitors are likely to spend time here:

Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia

Best for: Museums, affordable inns, residential streets, universities, and homewares and electronics shops on Tottenham Court Road

What you won’t find: Evening entertainment, nightclubs

Bloomsbury’s dark-brick, white-sashed residential buildings and leafy squares date mostly from the Georgian period, when the district became the first in a chaotic city to be planned—it was an early version of the modern suburban development. The refined air attracted the intelligentsia nearly from the start, and its two universities are both 19th-century institutions. The British Museum settled here, too. Bloomsbury became a place of remembrance on July 7, 2005; of the 52 who died that day, 26 perished underground on a bombed Piccadilly line train between King’s Cross and Russell Square stations, and 13 were killed on a double-decker bus passing through Tavistock Square. Bloomsbury’s cozier sister Fitzrovia, similar in character but devoid of major attractions, lies on the western side of Tottenham Court Road. Famous residents include George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf, who both lived (at different times) at 29 Fitzroy Square.

King’s Cross

Best for: Budget hotels, trains heading north (and south to Paris), alternative/down-and-dirty nightlife, student housing, take-away counters

What you won’t find: A large restaurant selection, shopping

Recently, the area around King’s Cross station was an unsavory tenderloin of porn stores and warehouses. Behind the station, millions of pounds just transformed once-derelict industrial infrastructure into Granary Square, a canalside center for arts hotspots, restaurants, colleges, and tech HQs. Legend (surely apocryphal) says the Celtic queen Boudica rests somewhere near Platform 8 of King’s Cross. Fans of Harry Potter know that the young wizard boards the Hogwarts Express at the (fictitious) Platform 93⁄4; the movie versions have shot at Platforms 4 and 5 but used prettier St Pancras station, next door, as a stand-in facade. Change came, as it often has in English history, from France. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link is the starting point for Eurostar train trips to France and beyond.

Marylebone & Mayfair

Best for: Luxe shopping, hotels, restaurants, small museums, strolling, embassies

What you won’t find: Historic sights, affordability

The middle-class hubbub of Oxford Street west of Regent Street divides high-hat Marylebone from its snobbish southern neighbor, Mayfair. Both play host to upscale shopping and several fascinating, if overlooked, museums, but there the similarities end. World-famous Mayfair, typified by hyperluxe bauble shops and blue-blood heritage (the present Queen was born at 17 Bruton St. in a building that is no longer there), has a high opinion of itself as a starchy enclave of wealth, much of it from other countries, and it has less to offer the casual tourist. (The title of the musical My Fair Lady is witty wordplay on how its Cockney heroine, Eliza, would have pronounced Mayfair lady.) Marylebone (Mar-le-bun), on the other hand, benefits from convenient Tube and bus connections and lively sidewalks crowded with evening celebrants, particularly around James Street. Also, thanks to a territorial local authority, its main shopping drag (Marylebone High St.) remains one of the last important streets in London that isn’t awash with the ubiquitous corporate chain stores. Oxford Street is The City’s premier shopping corridor; the western half between Oxford Circus and Marble Arch is the classier end, with marquee department stores such as Selfridges and Marks & Spencer.

Soho, Covent Garden & Central West End

Best for: Shopping, restaurants, theater, cinema, nightlife, opera, free art (National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery), star sightings

What you won’t find: Elbow room, hotel values, silence

London’s undisputed center of nightlife, restaurants, and theater, the West End seethes with tourists and merry-makers. After work, Old Compton Street and Covent Garden overflow with people catching up with friends; by 7:30pm, the theaters and opera houses are pulsing; by midnight, the action has moved into the nightclubs of Leicester Square and lounges of Soho; and in the wee hours, you might find groups of partiers trawling Gerrard Street, in teeny Chinatown, hunting for snacks. Prim Trafalgar Square, dominated by the peerless National Gallery, has often been called London’s focal point. On a sunny day, you’ll find few places that exude such well-being.

Westminster, including St James’s

Best for: Historic and government sights, river strolls, St James’s Park

What you won’t find: Affordable hotels, a wide choice of restaurants

This is near the central West End, but its energy is different. It’s a district tourists mostly see by day. South of Trafalgar Square, you’ll find regiments of robust government buildings but little in the way of hotels or food. Whitehall’s severity doesn’t spread far. Just a block east, its impenetrable character gives way to the proud riverside promenade of Victoria Embankment overlooking the London Eye, and just a block west, to the greenery of St James’s Park, which is, in effect, the Queen’s front yard, since Buckingham Palace is at the western boundary of this area. North of the park, the staid streets of St James’s are even more exclusive than Mayfair’s, if that’s possible. Prince Charles lives there.

The City

Best for: Old streets, the Tower of London, St Paul’s, financial concerns

What you won’t find: Nightlife or weekend life, affordable hotels

Technically, this is the only part of London that’s London. Other bits, including the West End, are under the jurisdiction of different local governments, such as Westminster or Camden. The City, as it’s called, is where most of London’s history happened. It’s where Romans cheered gladiators. It’s where London Bridge—at least 12 of them—touched shore. It’s where the Great Fire raged. And, more recently, it’s where the Deutsche Luftwaffe focused many of its nocturnal bombing raids, which is why you’ll find so little evidence of the aforementioned events. Outside of working hours, the main thing you’ll see in The City is your own reflection in the facade of corporate fortresses; west of Liverpool Street station, even most of the pubs close on weekends. Although this is where you’ll find such priceless relics as the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower Bridge, the Bank of England, and the Monument, many remnants are underfoot, since much of the spider web of lanes and streets dates back to the Roman period, and often their names give a hint of their former lives (Walbrook is where the river Walbrook, now hidden underground, flowed down to the Thames; Honey Lane, Bread Street, Milk Street, and Poultry all once hosted food markets.) Buildings have come and gone, but the veins of The City have pumped in-situ for thousands of years.

The South Bank, Southwark & Borough

Best for: Museums, memorable pubs, strolls, gourmet foods and wines

What you won’t find: Shopping, parks

During the recent rehabilitation of Southwark (Suth-urk) from a crumbling industrial district, its blighted power station became one of the world’s greatest museums (the Tate Modern), a master playwright’s theater was re-created (the Globe), and a sublime riverfront path replaced the coal lightermen’s rotting piers. Now it’s where London goes to fall in love with The City. It’s a 1-mile riverside stroll between the London Eye and the Tate Modern, and every step is a pleasure. Once-dank railway viaducts are filled with cafes and reasonable restaurants, Western Europe’s tallest skyscraper, The Shard, lords over from above, and the nation’s dramatic showpiece (the National Theatre) anchors them. But it’s gratifying to see that some things never change; Borough Market, which attracts gourmet foodies from around the world, is the descendant of a market that fed the denizens of that medieval skyscraper over the water, London Bridge.

Victoria & Chelsea

Best for: Boutiques, low-cost lodging,